As a deer pants

“For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you. ~Isaiah 54:10

Overwhelmed, undone, weary, discouraged – these are the words that float through my mind these past several weeks. Painful bruises on my heart are seemingly on every side until it almost feels like each area of my life has become tender. I don’t want to do anything but pause in paralysis. Stay frozen that nothing else can happen (similar to the childish belief that if I’m still enough under these covers, the monster won’t see me). I teeter on the edge of emotions so any little thing can tip me yet I know the truth:

You are calm in the storm,

a deep well for the thirsty,

rich satiation for the hungry,

compassionate with steadfast love,

Your love, mercy, peace, and kindness follow me – purposefully pursue me – You won’t let me stay frozen. Like steady, warm water dripping, You melt the ice of protection that surrounds my heart. Your love intrudes where I feel alone, Your peace breaks through my anxious thoughts with your steady presence. You never withdraw, others might, but You never reject, never turn away. You seek me out — You reached into death and pulled me out! You are actively engaged in restoring and renewing!

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? These things I would remember as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival. By day the LORD commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. ~Psalm 42:2,4,8

This journey of the psalmist echoes in my own life. I cannot escape the truth that I long for God, yet I am living in discouragement and fear. There are seasons where it seems the decay of our lives is abundantly clear, whether it is loneliness, doubt, worry, illness, betrayal, or something else. The destruction and rot that mark our lives because of sin become abundantly clear. The gut punch of pain that accompanies this state takes my breath away, and I am left gasping and heaving. And the whispers become shouts, “Where is your God?” As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?” (Ps 42:10)

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God (vs11). Hope – full assurance; not wishful thinking.  The remarkable steadiness of eternal God turned to me because of Jesus Christ. He is my salvation. God is engaged in my life for my good and His glory. This truth ignites trust coupled with peace despite my circumstances.

Worship is vital to recall and to return to when I feel overwhelmed and alone. Remembering who He is and who I am to Him, His steadfast love that He commands and the song He gives to me – these are the truths that solidify my quavering soul. I begin to sing songs of praise and worship, not because I can see my way out of these breakers and waves that pour over me, but because I know He does. And I want His best for my life.

You are my Sustainer, my Great High Priest, Defender, Ancient of Days, the great I AM, Redeemer, Restorer, Joy Giver, Friend, Father, Counselor, Teacher, Strength Giver, King of Kings, my Rock, Tower, the Lifter of my head, steadfast Lover of my soul, and the great Peacemaker.  You are my salvation – let me lead in procession to worship You, longing only for You as you call me to come deeper still.

 

 

you, surrendered

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. ~Matthew 11:28-29

You are exactly who God chose to parent the children you have been given.

The enemy wrecks us with this lie – that you aren’t the best parent, your kids would be better off with someone else, that woman is a better mother, that dad is a more diligent father than you. Maybe it’s the belief that you don’t understand your child, your personalities or temperaments clash so it will always be this tough. Maybe you’re weary of it all and just want to retreat from the rejection, the anger, the constant need for discipline without much apparent progress. Maybe you’re in a place where if someone could see the dark parts of your heart, they would see you just don’t like your child right now. You know you shouldn’t feel this way, yet you do if you’re honest. Your child is hard, battling, disobedient, rejecting, and just bone wearying. Maybe you lie in bed at night and swing between crying out for help and crying out for rest. Do you wonder if you’re just messing your child up or do you think it’s simply hopeless?

The enemy’s staccato drumbeats of retreat, fatigue, and doubt are loud in our ears sometimes. They seem to beat credibly that someone else would be better or that this is just too much. The banging that no progress is being made chants, “Why keep going?”

If there is one truth that we need to understand, it is this: We cannot parent perfectly. But we can parent surrendered to the One who does parent perfectly, and we will become His tool to work and display unconditional love, affection, and discipline.

And He chose you for them.

He chose you for each child He has given you.

He knew their needs and knew you were the best. Not because you bring anything to this parenting thing. He knew that you, surrendered to Him, would be a formidable, powerful force displaying love to lost unsaved children, leading them to Jesus, showing them their need for a Savior, that they too can walk rightly with God in peace and rest in a world fraught with fear and frenzy.

We must reject the cultural mandate that says we have to have all the right answers. No, we have to go to the Teacher. He knows our children intimately. Scripture says that the Holy Spirit searches hearts, understands the motivations that lie within, and knows exactly what to pray. John 15:7 reminds us that as we abide in Him, as we rest in His truth, we are free to ask anything and it will be done. God invites us to call unto Him and He will show us insights we do not know which include the mysteries of our children.

We have to stop believing that parenting is a sprint. Deuteronomy 6 & 11 paint the intimate way parents are to walk with their children, instilling in them the constancy and pervasiveness of relationship with God. The conversation of who God is, what Christ has done, and our response to Him should be hallmarks of our walk with our children. These truths color every facet of life. Discipling our children in the gospel is a race we will run until we die. It may change courses, the scenery may change, but the race ends when we stand breathlessly in front of Jesus Christ.

But until we become a people who abide with Jesus, who rest on Him alone, who bring all things before His throne, present all requests to Him and seek Him first, we will flounder. And we will be easy picking for the enemy who delights in discouragement and defeat.

So on the days of deep discouragement and doubt, when condemnation yells about my failures that day in parenting, I need to run to Jesus Christ. I need to stand before Him in light of the the truth of the gospel. He died for all my sin, including my rudeness, selfishness, impatience, anger or whatever has erupted from me that day against one of His children. And He is working in me to change me, granting me forgiveness with repentance. When I recognize my own desperate need for redemption and grace, my eyes can see the desperation within my child as well and the boundless love of the Father for that little one right there in the midst of their sin.

I must stand before Him, seeking first His way and not my own. I need to measure my words and my actions against His wisdom. My agenda for the day may need to die in order to make space and time to share the gospel with one of my children. My order of operations may have to be mixed up in order to hear the heart of a child being fooled by the lies of his or her flesh or the world. But no agenda, no career, no chore compares to the charge of sharing Christ with our children. When I understand what I have been given, I am far more able to embrace the charge of discipleship and lovingly lead my child to the Lifegiver every chance I can.

So let us comfort

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. ~2 Cor. 1:3-4

Often we face seasons filled with hardship, chaos, pain, and even affliction. In the last few years, Troy and I have faced a lot of unknowns – God has walked us through some scary seasons filled with new babies, cancer diagnoses, a new job and city, children with serious medical illnesses, parents with cancer, and the loss of loved ones. We have wept tears of pain, joy, and relief. We have felt alone in a new city and experienced new friends feed us, care for our other children, encourage and pray for us. We have had seasons so weary of bad news that we have cried out to God wondering why. Why us? Why now?

This has been a week of threshing. Not because of some great spiritual dilemma; no, this is the threshing that can only come from the stomach bug. It is one thing that can completely wreck me – 10 people who can get sick, violently ill, unpredictably, anywhere, on anything. Ugh, it’s one of the worst! And it has come to our home this week. Our 2 year old was the first (probably patient zero) and of course by caring for him, I fell next. My big kids have been amazing! So helpful, kind, willing to support one another – School was done, meals prepared, rooms cleaned, really amazing. But still I lay in the bed unable to move or breathe deeply, fearing the pukes and mildly wanting to die. I wonder why me? Why now? Couldn’t I have just skipped this? God, if I were last to get this, all of this would be a lot easier given the laundry, food, and cleaning issues mounting.

And then it hits another preschooler and immediately I jump into action, weakly staggering down the hall to get cleaning supplies and shooing healthy teens back in order to hopefully protect them from actually getting this dreaded thing. As I comfort the upset, fearful little one with words that reassure, I quickly get her bathed, redressed, tucked into a new bed, and quarantined beside me and the baby in the sick bay. I lay back down, fearful of who will fall next. The one thought that begins to crystallize is that maybe it is fortunate I wasn’t the last hold out, that instead I was 2nd man down. Why? Because now I am free to comfort, nurture, and care for all my little ones without residual fear of catching it.

Typically fear mounts during these onslaughts and begins to whisper at me every time another child falls prey to this kind of virus. I’m not always the most nurturing if you’re over the age of 10 (mainly because I guess you’ve hit the age of accountability with getting the pukes in the toilet) so you may not get all the loving care you were used to prior to that birthday, especially if you are later in the game to get sick. My tank seems to run out because now the contagious factor has so mounted that I know it’s just a matter of time for me, and I want to limit all contact!

And while I know there is no one who would welcome the stomach virus just to be able to identify with another, God has been highlighting this truth to me in this week. My ability to comfort another is linked to the comfort I have received from Him. We comfort because we have been brought through adversity, not because we have just heard about the hardship or difficulty. No, we comfort because God has faithfully walked us through, and we can point to Him for the ones caught in the struggle. We become His ambassadors, His hands and feet to offer comfort, rest, help, and truth to the ones wracked by hardship that feels overwhelming and never-ending.

So I wonder, what do I know of this comfort? I love what Spurgeon said about the beginning of this verse – by blessing God, we “destroy distress by bringing God upon the scene.” How many times do I stew in my distress whether it be little like a virus or seemingly insurmountable like cancer, job loss, family stress, or death? Do I spend time first in my whining and wondering, succumbing to all the what ifs and fears of what may come? or do I rise and bless God? Comfort blossoms out of the truth of who God is. He is sovereign, constant, unchanging, and faithful. His sovereignty declares that He hasn’t lost control of one single thing that seems to be spiraling out of control. His constancy promises His presence right with me in the struggle. His unchanging nature means that comfort will be given in an ongoing, meaningful way because He is the Father of all mercies. And He is faithful to supply all the comfort needed. He is the Source of all I need in my time of need.

His comfort is unlike any other. Comfort comes from the Greek word parakaleo meaning to call for, exhort, encourage, strengthen and console. It is the steady truth of the Scripture coming alive on the page as I seek Him. His words actively slicing through my layers of fear, panic, numbness, or pain. It is the faithful allegiance, service, and prayers of the Tychicus, Titus, and Epaphrus friends in life – the warriors who will stand in the gap and bring encouragement on the dark days. It is the miraculous moment when something shifts that seemed immovable, and you instantly know the hand of God was involved. But most importantly, His comfort comes through the Comforter, the great Paraclete. The Holy Spirit indwelling you and me as believers. Ephesians 1:13-14 declares this truth that when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. Jesus declared that the best thing for us would be the Comforter or Helper who would come. He guides us into truth, causes us to abound in hope, grants us unity, regenerates, and renews us.

But if I resist or resent my struggle, how can I comfort another? If I redefine it so that I don’t have to walk through the struggle or if I refuse the difficult road God calls me to, there is no ground for comforting another. When I run to quick fixes or hide in holes of denial, I declare that He is not my comforter. And I am empty when faced with another who desperately needs to hear the truth of Who He is. The spread of the Gospel is rapid and fierce when we, having walked through the fires, can testify to not being burned. Hope is offered to the world when we can point to the waters that seemed to overwhelm us and then share the peace of God which restrained the despair so that we did not drown. The world is desperate for comfort. The body of believers is desperate for comfort. Let us walk as comforters because we know and have been comforted by Him.

Weighed Down

Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad. ~ Proverbs 12:25

Anxiety – Merriam Webster defines it as a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. Biblically the word in Hebrew has heaviness, fear, sorrow, or carefulness associated with it. Until a few years ago, I would not have said that anxiety characterized my life or was a big struggle for me. Now I may have been wrong or unaware, but certainly God has been faithful to reveal what I feel is a new struggle with anxiety to me in these last few years.

Several years ago we made a move, following steps the Lord made clear to us but still painful in the leaving of friends, familiarity, comfort, and ease. Following that move I would say that our lives entered a 3 year period where anything that could go wrong did. Medical crises, difficulty with a pregnancy and new birth, upheaval with work, uncertainty with income walked hand in hand with a new city, new friends, new routine for school. We began to hurtle from one major event to another, putting out the fires or seeking to moderate the issue, and I began to feel like the ball in a pinball machine bouncing back and forth between high stress issues without any respite. My friends who know me will probably agree that I tend to be more dramatic or animated than some, but I began to retreat into a place where I watched myself handle everything without actually engaging a whole lot emotionally. In my mind racing thoughts of what’s next, what should I do to prevent that, how can I set this up to not have repercussions seesawed along with thoughts of retreat, panic, and anger. My family was “treated” to either a high task manager or emotional mine field.

Proverbs warns that anxiety weighs a man down. To weigh down in this verse means to bow down, as in worship, to stoop. Anxiety will cause me to worship at the altar of fear, worry, control/organization, self reliance or inactivity. I will bow down, and it will not be to the only One who can help me in my need.  So how do I release or walk away from anxiety?

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand. Do not be anxious about anything but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Reasonableness in Philippians 4 is gentleness. When I am anxious, often gentleness is the first thing to go. Anxious people aren’t often gentle or patient.  They are protective, grabby, impatient, and irritable. The posture of rejoicing despite the circumstances, pleading before the throne with thanksgiving, is hard. But as we look to the Word and worship Him, His peace is our guard, a military term for keeping watch and engaging all offensive and defensive actions necessary as a military sentinel would.

1 Peter 5:6-7 – Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. As much as I don’t want to see it, anxiety links up with pride. Pride is the root cause of so many symptoms of sin, and it is the base of this one as well for me. Since the garden we have been seeking to be like God, and I am no exception. My anxiety was wrapped in the complete lack of ability to control anything going on and the deep pride within me that screamed that I should be able to handle this, that I should be able to walk this out calmly, that if I could just organize better or return to some way that had worked in the past, that I could turn this around and be the savior in these circumstances. I could not control the way my life was spinning, and it was an affront to me.  There is One who has conquered all, and He desires for me to choose the good portion as he told Martha in Luke 10. Inherent in this scripture is the link that humbling myself requires giving all my anxieties to Him, acknowledging His care for me, and allowing His timing for my life. And He will exalt, at the proper time. He will carve ways out of rock, make rough places smooth, comfort your fears, heal, lead, organize, and guide.

Many times I have quoted or heard someone quote Matthew 6:34, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” And it seems like a pull up your bootstraps kind of verse, meant to exhort and make you just put all your worries down and walk well. But it’s so important to have context of what Jesus is saying when he exhorts us with this verse. Yes, this is the passage where Jesus is referencing the birds and flowers that don’t worry about their food or clothes, and he then says how much more does your Father love and care for you, the ones who are in His image. But verse 33 should be the emphasis, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” When my thinking is aligned with kingdom work, anxiety can be nailed to the cross. The ability to peel off the anxiety that envelopes is related to my pursuit of Him. He will increase my understanding of what occurred at the cross, that Jesus’ death crucified my body of sin so that I would not be enslaved to it but set free from it.

I want to worship Christ, the One who has made me alive and will make me more and more in His image until the day I stand before Him. No more bowing to what I fear or what I cannot control.

 

Amen

“For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” ~2 Corinthians 1:20-22

Yesterday was hard. There is no way around that fact – it was a grind. I found myself battling the desire inside me to retreat, withdraw, decide I didn’t care about some issue/fight/attitude simply because I was weary of all the conversations with all the people. I found my patience decreasing as I moved from interaction to interaction, as I carried just a little of my emotion from one child’s discipline into the next. So every little sin I have been called to face becomes a place where I too must battle the flesh that rises up within me.

Do you ever consider what you are doing? I mean the experience of looking in on yourself and wonder, “how in the world did I get here?” What road did I mistakenly get off on that has placed me here in the midst of all this junk, with me being the chief proponent of the junk? Have you ever just been so tired of slogging through tantrums, rivalry, disobedience, lying, selfishness and begin to wonder whether this is worth anything? does it really make a difference? Does the distant heart of a pre-teenager or the rebellious teen make you feel discouraged like it does me at times? Does anyone else hide in their closet and pretend like they cannot hear their name being called? no? just me?

I confess I do.

Many of my friends look in on me and admire or praise me. They can’t imagine parenting so many, so they assume this fantasy that I have it all wrapped up. I don’t.

But I know the One who does. And I have to keep coming back to that fact. Sometimes multiple times in the same hour, I have to preach the Gospel to myself, reminding myself that He has completed all I need. He is sovereign over all I experience. He is engaged with every interaction. It is vital that I apply the Gospel to the working out of my faith in my interactions with my kids. Because that is what mothering is – it is the working out of my faith today.

So I need to remember my position first. God has established me in Christ, anointed me and put his seal upon me and given me His Spirit as a guarantee. My establishment is apart from my actions, “by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is a gift of God, not a result of works so that no one may boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9)

So as a mom I am established, rooted and firmly adhered to the love of Jesus Christ. This steadfast love that He has offered me compels me in the interactions with my children, both to love them that way and to instruct them in how to love with His unending love. And I have been given His Spirit as a guarantee. A down payment of all the power, wisdom, counsel, and relationship fully offered and alive in me. He is my guarantee that all the promises of God are true. 1 Peter 1:3-4 declares that His power has given me all I need for life and godliness, and He has given me his precious and great promises so that through all his promises I am a partaker in the divine nature. I am invited and welcomed to participate in His way of parenting my children, having been given all I need to be a godly parent through His Spirit within me.

So I stand (in the closet) and take a moment to speak the Truth to myself. The God of this universe deeply loves me and my child. He is far more invested in my child than I can ever claim to be, and in this moment He wants to display His great promises of steadfast love, mercy, forgiveness, presence, guidance, protection through me. I have been anointed by God to be the conduit in this moment, to display Him. Sometimes that looks like firm truth with discipline, sometimes that looks like redirection to the Word, sometimes it’s a quiet hug and tender kiss. Our children need a constant reminder of who they are and Who they need.

My response to my children in these moments is really a response to Him. You see my Amen response comes from a place of faith, certain of all Christ has done in me and will do through me because He has established me. And my response is for His glory.

 

Just swing

And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?” ~Luke 8:24-25

“Stop panicking and trust, Momma. God knows. Your job is to trust Him. He’s got this.” Those words from my daughter. They draw me up sharp and take my breath away.

We have one child who has a serious aversion to movement, just cannot take the swinging motion of being thrown up by her daddy. You can forget any bikes, swings, or roller coasters. She will completely panic if she feels movement-wise out of control, and you cannot convince her that you have her and will hold her safe. She’s in full out panic mode protecting herself in that moment, wildly flailing about, screaming, crying. Inconsolable if she feels as if someone bigger just took advantage of her and threw her around.

And this is me so often with God. In the last 3-4 years of life, we have had alot of crazy – illnesses, deaths, changes, births, new cities, new schools, injuries. And I feel like I have somehow gotten on a roller coaster that I never wanted to ride, and I can’t get off. I may swing high and enjoy a moment of exhilaration but the plummeting back down can fill me with such panic or fear, wondering if I will crash.

We see it in the story of the disciples out on the lake with Jesus. The storm comes that pounds and rocks the boat with such ferocity that the disciples panic. Several of these men are well seasoned fishermen who have seen storms like this before, yet they see the waters flowing into the boat, recognize the power of the storm, and are scared. The Bible recounts this story in 3 different places (Matthew 8:23-27, Mark 4:35-41 and Luke 8:22-25) and in each recounting Jesus is asleep. The disciples begin to realize the boat could sink or capsize, and they wake him frantically asking him to save them. In Mark 4:38, they say, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” and in the other two passages they cry out that they are perishing and ask for salvation. They are panicking!

Yet they have just spent days with Jesus watching him heal the sick, cast out demons, and raise the dead. They have listened to his teaching and marveled at the truths he taught. They have seen evidence of his power, authority, and might. But in the storm that night, I think these men absolutely thought they were going to die and then looked over and saw the peace Jesus had in his sleep and it may have just bugged them completely. They desperately wanted safety and knew the power they had seen displayed earlier was their only hope. Often when I am in full freak out mode, not trusting or believing, I want everyone else with me to feel my panic and join me in despair. But the wisdom my child offered parallels what Jesus asked his disciples. “Where is your faith?” Now my daughter can’t change anything but what she is able to do is speak words of life, reminders to redirect thought patterns to the One who is able to handle all storms, obstacles, and catastrophes. I love that Jesus in His great mercy and grace calms the storm with a word. Then He challenges the disciples’ degree of faith.

Trust – to be confident, sure or bold; refuge. Psalm 9:9-10 declares, “The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.” and Psalm 13:5, “But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord because he has dealt bountifully with me.” David wasn’t confused – his heart in Ps 13 was aching, throbbing with the longing of being somewhere other than where he was. He wanted the sorrow and pain to end and joyful communion with God to be his daily walk. But then he actually stops and sees God.

I think that is the key posture I forget. In the midst of my freakout, can I calm enough to consider the One who can calm this storm, stop the madness, or do I just keep spinning? Inherent to any mother is the understanding that when your child is completely unglued, if you can just get them to look at you and listen to your quiet, calm voice, they can focus, stabilize. What do we often say to a child in tremendous angst? Sshh, listen to me, quiet, calm down, focus.  Isn’t that what our Father in heaven says to us over and over? “Abide in me,” “Take my yoke and learn from me, for I am gently and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls,” “Set your minds on things above and not on earthly things” Scripture tells us over and over that our God cares for us like a bird cares for her young, compassionately loves us, remembers our frailties, delights in our seeking Him. And even in the boat, Jesus doesn’t give a lecture to the disciples first while they are so frightened. He calms the storm first.

The truth for David and for me is that His steadfast love offers salvation, intimacy and relationship, and hope for eternity. He has declared Himself Lord over every circumstance of my life. The question becomes do I allow Him the rightful place as Lord? Or do I seek to self-protect, denying His perfect protection? Am I like my flailing, panicked child, so fearful of the movements and changes that life brings that I lose sight of the Great Almighty, the One in whose shelter I am invited to abide? Or do I swing, trusting that He is able to control the movement? Do I remember that He has dealt bountifully with me?